Now, it’s our turn. Here’s what our Pitt experts have in the cards for this fall:
Pitt embarks on its quest to defend its first Coastal Division title with a ton of questions about the way the season will go, particularly on offense.
The Panthers’ defensive unit appears to be poised to be one of the best of Narduzzi’s time at Pitt, even after the loss of Rashad Weaver at defensive end. In fact, that might be the only position where Pitt doesn’t have superior depth. There are players that won’t start on the 2019 defense that would have never left the field on Pitt’s 2015 defensive unit.
Particularly, the depth and talent in the secondary should finally let the defense work the way it did at Michigan State.
Offensively, it’s another story. Kenny Pickett and the receiver corps all return, but no one knows if that’s a good thing or a bad thing after Pitt posted one of the worst passing offenses in FBS in 2018.
Meanwhile, the running game that was the hallmark of the 2018 team’s success has mostly graduated. A.J. Davis, Todd Sibley and company have talent, but they’ll be running behind a revamped and very inexperienced offensive line.
Then there’s the schedule, which will do no favors to a team still finding its way early in the season. Coastal Division favorites Virginia come to town Saturday. MAC favorites Ohio follow. Then a trip to No. 15 Penn State and a visit from No. 17 UCF.
It’s not at all out of question that Pitt could start the season 0-4.
In conference play, Syracuse and Virginia Tech are among the more imposing road trips in Pitt’s regular rotation and Boston College should provide a challenging crossover foe.
I think that Pitt’s defense will be the best it’s had under Narduzzi and the best it’s had in a very long time. I think that Mark Whipple will drag the offense into the 21st century and that Pickett is capable of being a much better passer than we saw in 2018.
I just don’t know how many more wins that’s going to mean for the team. Put me down for three wins: Ohio, Delaware and Georgia Tech, and two losses: Penn State and UCF. That leaves seven tossups. A 4-3 record in the rest would land the Panthers at 7-5. That sounds about right to me.
Pat Narduzzi will have as talented and as deep a roster since he took over at Pitt five years ago, but the question is will that result in more wins?
Due to the strength of the defensive line and secondary, I believe the defense will be capable of winning games themselves and will assist the offense by creating turnovers and giving them short fields to work with.
Although they graduated three starters, I like what Pitt has at linebacker and they won’t be a liability.
Individually, I look for Patrick Jones, Amir Watts, Damar Hamlin, Dane Jackson and Paris Ford to be standout players. If I’m picking two players to emerge and get better as the year goes on I’m going with Cam Bright and Devin Danielson.
The question is will the Pitt offense be able to compliment the defense?
Although many people have questions about Kenny Pickett, I’m not in that group. I believe Pickett was a victim last year of his offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. The removal of Watson and the hiring of Mark Whipple, who has a strong resume for passing the ball, will benefit Pickett and the entire Pitt offense.
My only concern is how quick will it take for the offensive line to gel since it’s an entirely new unit.
I believe the strength of Pitt’s offense will be the number of talented wide receivers Pickett will be throwing to. On any given weekend, guys like Maurice Ffrench, Taysir Mack, Tre Tipton, Dontavius Butler-Jenkins, Jared Wayne and Shocky Jacques-Louis have the potential to be playmakers and factors in the Pitt passing attack. With this many options, it’s impossible for the opposing defense to key on a single player which will benefit Pickett.
Individually, I’m looking for big years from Pickett, A.J. Davis, Dontavious Butler-Jenkins and Taysir Mack.
With all this being said, how many wins will this result in for Pitt in 2019?
I’ll start by saying that I look for Pitt to have a great September and to win tomorrow night against Virginia. I believe it’ll be a huge advantage for Pitt to play Virginia without them having any tape on Whipple’s offense at Pitt. I look for the passing game to have a big night and Pitt to win 31-21.
As far as the rest of the schedule, although I’m not predicting it, i wouldn’t be surprised to see Pitt win four of their first five games. In conference, the two games that worry me and could turn out being pivotal games are Miami and Virginia Tech.
When it’s all said and done, I look for Pitt to go 8-4. If the offense can consistently produce, another appearance in the ACC Championship Game is realistic.